Manasquan's School Board on Tuesday backed the high school athletic director's decision to release a volunteer girls basketball coach last month after it decided to take no action in the face of several appeals by community members to reverse the move.
More than a half-dozen of Tom Flaherty's supporters and former players, including McDonald's All-American Michaela Mabrey, spoke during Tuesday's school board meeting and pled for the coach's reinstatement. The former high school girls varsity basketball assistant coach was released without an explanation last month by Athletic Director Ronald Kornegay.
According to Flaherty's lawyer, Robert A. Honecker Jr., the coach was released Jan. 25 but not given an explanation until Feb. 21 after several inquiries. The school district has maintained that the move was "administrative," but the letter Flaherty received last week cited that the coach had held unauthorized practices with players.
Honecker, of Ocean-based law firm Ansell, Grimm and Aaron, said that the board should have investigated the allegations and reversed the decision. But after spending roughly 20 minutes in closed session discussing the matter, board President Michelle LaSala said no board action would be taken, effectively allowing the decision to stand.
"I felt betrayed," Mabrey said. "There was no reason for Tom (Flaherty) being let go."
Mabrey said that Flaherty, who was in his third year as assistant coach, had helped the girls basketball team improve dramatically by teaching them the values of hard work and dedication to the sport.
"We deserve answers, and we deserve respect. We represent all that is good at Manasquan High School," Mabrey said.
Flaherty was accused of holding secret practices with players at a public park in Wall, but parents of players who spoke Tuesday said that the girls would practice on their own while Flaherty and other parents would sit and socialize nearby.
Flaherty's daughter Katelynn is a sophomore standout on Manasquan's girls basketball team.
While Flaherty declined to comment while the board was in closed session, he said that he was appreciative of all the support from the community.
"I'm just hoping they do the right thing," Flaherty said of the board before they returned from closed session.
Several parents, including Mabrey's mom and dad, also spoke in support of Flaherty during the meeting's public portion.
Jim Kelly, of Spring Lake Heights, said he and his daughter, a senior at the school, have been going to games the last four years and have seen a major improvement since Flaherty and Head Coach Felix Romero took over.
The girls team, ranked No. 3 in the state, lost the Shore Conference Championship to rival 2nd-ranked St. Rose earlier this month and will play in the upcoming NJSIAA state tournament.
"President Obama said 'I make mistakes every day.' I think a mistake was made here," Kelly said. "I think we have to correct this mistake and get Mr. Flaherty back."